Kristof: History usually catches up to autocrats and thugs — eventually

“If the Democratic Party wants to stand with anarchists, agitators, rioters, looters and flag burners, that is up to them. But I as your president will not be part of it. The Republican Party will remain the voice of the patriotic heroes who keep America safe.”
— Donald Trump, Aug. 28, 2020
Wednesday was a horrifying and shameful moment in American history. I’ve covered attempted coups in many countries around the world, and now I’m finally covering one in the United States.
Trump and his enablers talk a good game about patriotism. They denounced President Barack Obama for sometimes not wearing a flag lapel pin. They criticized Colin Kaepernick for protesting police brutality by taking a knee rather than standing during the national anthem — and then Trump incited a mob on Wednesday to invade the United States Capitol. The rioters encountered a minimal police response, not the kind that Black Lives Matter protesters received.
Many of those pro-Trump rioters probably dispute the idea of white privilege. But the fact that they were allowed to overrun the police and invade the Senate and House chambers was evidence of that privilege.
“We are witnessing absolute banana republic crap in the United States Capitol right now,” Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., tweeted, adding an appeal to Trump: “You need to call this off.”
What the pro-Trump rioters attacked was not only a building but also the Constitution, the electoral system, our democratic process. They humiliated the United States before the world and left America’s enemies chortling. They will be remembered as Benedict Arnolds.
“Our democracy is under unprecedented assault, unlike anything we have seen in modern times,” President-elect Joe Biden said. He described it as “an assault on the citadel of liberty, the Capitol itself.”
“President Trump is promoting national unity through renewing understanding of and commitment to America’s shared founding principles.”
— White House “fact sheet,” Nov. 2, 2020
After a year in which Trump presented himself as the law-and-order president and denounced protesters as rioters, he summoned supporters to Washington and unleashed them as rioters on the Capitol as votes were counted. “Be there, will be wild,” he tweeted.
“Let’s have trial by combat,” his lawyer Rudy Giuliani told a rally of Trump supporters shortly before the attack on the Capitol.
So pro-Trump crowds dismantled security fences and invaded the Capitol. You can call them rioters or terrorists or coup plotters, but they were not Making America Great Again.
In Portland, Oregon, last summer, I saw federal authorities periodically use tear gas even against protesters who were peaceful and outside — so it was astonishing to see waves of protesters invade the Capitol with almost no response. Leftist protests sometimes did become violent and destructive in Portland and other cities, and when that happened Joe Biden repeatedly denounced them; he stood up to his base. Trump in contrast incited violence by his base and on Wednesday morning encouraged his supporters to head to the Capitol.
Trump and other Republicans talk about personal responsibility and obeying the law. So Tanya McDowell, a homeless African American mom, was imprisoned after misleading school officials about where she lived so that she could send her young son to a better school district and give him a better life. But, hypocritically, Trump fails to take any responsibility after a term in which he has lost the House, the presidency and the Senate — and then unleashes mobs to terrorize the Capitol.
As I said, I’ve covered other attempted coups, and history usually catches up to autocrats and thugs — eventually. They end up in prison, exile or disgrace, whining about the unfairness of it all, monuments to the perils of demagoguery and authoritarianism.
Nicholas D. Kristof is a New York Times columnist.
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